Regional turbulence adds to urgency to solve Palestinian issue

BEIJING, May 19 (Xinhua) — The latest surge of unrest in the violence-torn Middle East has highlighted the pressing need to solve the Palestinian issue — a Gordian knot that has plagued the region for decades.

At least 10 Palestinians were killed and some 160 others wounded by Israeli forces on Sunday. That was when thousands of Palestinians, while marking the 63rd Arkba Day, clashed with Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip, South Lebanon, and Syria’s Golan Heights. Palestinians have observed the annual event to mourn their displacement following the creation of Israel in 1948.

Sunday’s bloodshed sparked strong condemnation by Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian leaders and caused grave international concern.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said in a statement that he was “acutely conscious of the unsustainable status quo in the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

The UN leader said he “reiterates the urgent need for a just, lasting and comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace.”

Ban also called for “a renewed and sustained effort to resume Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and advance the broader goal of a comprehensive regional peace in the Middle East.”

OPPORTUNITIES REMAIN AMID TURBULENCE

Amid the ongoing Middle East upheaval, some argue that the turbulence may put the Palestinian issue further on the back burner. That’s because the Palestinians have to wait for new Arab leaders to readjust their policies on Israel. Others, however, see a possible chance for reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

They see the recent reconciliation among Palestinian factions as a window of opportunity for any genuine peacemaking effort rather than an obstacle.

Fatah and Hamas in early May struck a deal in Cairo to form a unity government to end a four-year rift that has left them with rival governments: a Hamas regime in Gaza and a Fatah-dominated administration in the West Bank.

Wu Sike, China’s special envoy on the Middle East, said the Palestinian issue, as the core question in the Mideast, cannot be marginalized despite the profound and complicated changes that have shaken the region.

The settlement of the Palestinian issue will help restore regional stability as it is closely related to many other issues in the region, Wu said during a recent interview with Xinhua after his Mideast tours.

Israeli President Shimon Peres said during a recent visit to Spain that “now is precisely the time to resume the talks between us and the Palestinians … the storm (of protests in the region) is also an opportunity for peace.”

To Palestinian political observer Khalil Shahin, changes in the regional political landscape, particularly the regime change in Egypt, provide a good opportunity for solving the Palestinian issue.

Shahin’s view was shared by Palestinian political analyst Mahmoud Abu Rub. He said he believes that among other reasons, the turmoil in Syria put pressures on its close ally Hamas, forcing it to mend ties with Fatah.

Salomon Bouman, a retired Israel correspondent for the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad, called Palestinian reconciliation “a highly important move which should be seen also within the context of the changes in the Arab world.”

“Only a few months ago, Egypt and Israel acted together against Hamas in Gaza,” he said. “Now, since the regime change in Cairo, Hamas is welcome in Egypt, received by the foreign minister even. A sea change … If Egypt keeps the peace with Israel, it might press Hamas to do the impossible — to recognize the Jewish state.”

Bouman said Israel should now take the initiative and come forward with a realistic peace plan or offer.

On May 4, the website of Suddeutsche Zeitung, a leading German newspaper, carried an article by Peter Munch, who argued that the Palestinian reconciliation comes at a time when great changes are taking place in the Arab world. That change, he contends, may provide an opportunity for the international community to restart the stalled Mideast peace process.

Khaled Mashaal, the leader of Hamas’ Political Bureau, told Xinhua in a telephone interview that the unity deal would not change Hamas’ policies. Hamas’ principles on armed resistance against Israel, he said, are “not subject to discussion.”

However, he said that to realize inter-Palestinian reconciliation and national unity, Hamas is open to adjusting ways of struggle against Israel.

Mashaal has also indicated on many occasions that Hamas stands ready to accept a two-state solution if endorsed by a Palestinian referendum.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, in a recent article published on the website of the Washington Post, voiced support for the establishment of a Palestinian unity government.

U.S. and international backing for such an effort, Carter wrote, “can help Palestinian democracy and establish the basis for a unified Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza that can make a secure peace with Israel.”

ISRAEL FACES TOUGH CHOICES

Israel has been deeply troubled by the latest developments on the Palestinian side.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly urged Palestinian National Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to cancel the alliance with Hamas, saying he must choose between a “path of peace with Israel” or peace with Hamas that “aspires to destroy Israel.”

Netanyahu also has refused to deal with Hamas or any Palestinian unity government joined by Hamas, unless Hamas renounces violence, recognizes Israel and honors the existing Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements.

However, it is widely believed that if Israel does not seize the opportunity to make peace with the Palestinians, the prospects for Mideast peace will be dark indeed.

In an April 29 article, entitled “Israel, Palestine and the Arab Spring” that was carried by the French paper “Le Monde,” Alan Frachon contends that it isn’t hard for Israelis to figure out that the strategic environment is moving toward a direction unfavorable to them.

While the Arab world undergoes a turbulent period, Israel should do its best to avoid getting entangled in the chaos. Only by pushing for a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can Israel soften the hostile Arab public opinion, Franchon’s article maintained.

Israeli President Peres, for his part, said Israel should not rule out the possibility of entering into a dialogue with Hamas.

Wu, the Chinese envoy on the Middle East, also said he believes that closing the door on peace talks is no way out.

Both the Israelis and Palestinians should be convinced that they eventually will find a solution to their conflict through unremitting efforts and good-will consultations, according to Wu.

The parties’ common desire for peace may well serve as the foundation for reviving talks, Wu said. He said that both sides should make adjustments in line with the changing situation and find a new starting point for negotiations.

WASHINGTON NEEDS NEW STRATEGY

U.S. President Barack Obama promised to help broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal when he assumed office in early 2009. However, he has yet to deliver on that promise two years into his first administration. Observers believe the ongoing unrest in the Mideast would add a sense of urgency for the Obama Administration to seize the chance and revigorate the Mideast peace process.

This week saw Obama, who was to meet with Netanyahu on Friday, increasingly focusing on the troubled region.

He met Jordan’s King Abdullah II in the White House on Tuesday and told the king “it’s more vital than ever that both Israelis and Palestinians find a way to get back to the table and begin negotiating a process whereby they can create two states that are living side by side in peace and security.”

On Thursday, Obama was scheduled to deliver a speech on the recent events in the Mideast and North Africa and U.S. policy concerning the region. The speech will be Obama’s second on the topic since he assumed the presidency.

Observers say that from a strategic perspective, the United States should make greater efforts to help the Israelis and Palestinians secure a two-state solution and achieve a lasting peace.

The observers said that Washington needs a new strategy to avert the recurrence of bloody Israeli-Palestinian conflicts after a two-year lull.

A new strategy, they said, would entail continued efforts to engage Palestinian security forces in the West Bank with the Israelis to prevent violent attacks.

In addition, they said Washington should press Egypt and the new Palestinian government to make Hamas implement a ceasefire, and urge the Netanyahu government to refrain from any provocations.

by Xinhua writers Xin Jianqiang, Zhong Cuihua

Special Report: Palestine-Israel Conflicts

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